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Keep the Bad Guys Out! How to Build a Safe Room That's Utterly Impenetrable

  • Outfitting a room with reinforcements that can withstand an AR-15 assault rifle.

    Outfitting a room with reinforcements that can withstand an AR-15 assault rifle.

  • safe-room-door


In the 2002 movie "Panic Room," Jodie Foster retreats to a high-tech, impregnable chamber when a gang of heavily armed robbers busts into her luxury Manhattan brownstone. (No spoilers -- because we honestly don't remember any of them!)

Back in the day, this was seriously impressive stuff, and helped start a trend. Panic rooms became the housing industry's weirdest wanna-have amenity. Wouldn't it be great, the thinking went, to have your own safe room -- a vault that couldn't be blown up by bad guys or destroyed by natural disasters, a place to hide out until the world becomes less dangerous again?

Fast-forward to the present day, and safe rooms have evolved with a slew of new glitz, gadgets, and anti-theft deterrents. And they're not just the stuff of Hollywood fantasy anymore. More and more real people have safe rooms, too. The New York Post recently called them the "hottest new trend for the .01 percent." If you've got the cash, you can have one, too.

So how do you do it? Good thing we're here to tell you. Be safeā€¦.

The safe room, expanded

You can create a dedicated panic room somewhere in your house, just like in the movie. You can also identify an everyday space in your home that you feel the most comfortable in, and fortify it. In fact, your entire home can become one giant safe room, if you're so inclined.

"If you're isolated in your normal environment, that's when you're safe," says Lana Corbi, executive vice president of Strategically Armored and Fortified Environments, or SAFE, located in Los Angeles. "You can isolate the master suite, the closet, the bathroom area, the kids' room."

Converting normal rooms into safe rooms has become more popular than tacking on a separate bulletproof space. Tim Gaffney, founder and CEO of Gaffco Ballistics in New York City, says business for integrated safe rooms has doubled this year (while demand for nonintegrated safe areas has declined). Gaffco's pitch: It can retrofit your bedroom -- or anywhere else in your home -- into a fortress. And you'll never know the difference.

"If it doesn't look and feel normal, [customers] don't want them," Gaffney explains. "You can't make a 400-pound door lighter, but you can make it feel lighter, blend in, and feel like a regular door opening and closing."

High-tech 'keys' to open the safe room

No, having the latest and greatest in panic-room technology installed into your home does not come cheap.

Want to go really high-tech? Whichever space you choose could be secured by a blast-resistant and EMP-proof door (so your electronics mostly continue to work when the bomb drops). Such doors can only open via approved facial recognition or palm scanners.

Get ready to raid your 401(k). A retina scanner runs an average of $3,000, just for the hardware, Gaffney says. The physical integration of the scanner into a central hub, the highly personalized software, and the cost of installation will run you $15,000 to $20,000.

Disorientation and ID tactics

Heavy-duty door with gun port

It doesn't just have to be about locking yourself away until help comes. Homeowners can protect themselves with a variety of James Bond-worthy gadgets. For example, there are foggers -- devices that deploy a blindingly thick water vapor into a room. The gassy gadgets can not only fill up 3,000 square feet in seconds, but also lace the perpetrator's skin with a DNA time stamp linking them to the crime.

"Even after they've showered several times, authorities can use a special light to illuminate the DNA marking that comes with the fog," Corbi explains. "It gets into the crevices of skin and identifies where you were and when you were there,"

Still want more anti-felon fun? You can add a high-powered strobe light to further disorient the unwanted guest.

Or, if you're so inclined, you can just flex your Second Amendment rights from behind a door. Gaffco Ballistics offers force-resistant doors with built-in gun ports.

Trap doors

What's that you're saying? You don't just want to keep yourself and your loved ones safe -- you want to catch the bad guys, too? SAFE offers "man traps," which, according to their catalog, "are designed to isolate intruders in a strategic section of the property" behind some automatically locking security doors.

"It can be locked down manually, or our control systems can be pre-programmed to lock down the man-trap area automatically in the event of a break-in or other threatening circumstance," Corbi says.

And then you can spend some quality time with the hapless robber via speakers or video conferencing, while you wait for the cops. Fun!

A home in Mexico City completely outfitted with bulletproof glass, doors, and high-tech security by Gaffco Ballistics

The cost of being insanely safe

Costs vary widely depending on what you want. More conservative customers might outfit their windows with a reinforcing film that can delay or stop smash-and-grab attempts -- and that could cost as little as a few hundred dollars for a few minutes. Or you can bulletproof the whole house.

Check out the photo above. That's a home in Mexico City fully outfitted with bulletproof walls and windows, a smart system, ballistic doors, multiple backup systems, and "all the bells and whistles" by Gaffco Ballistics. The cost? $1.5 million.

Gaffney's NYC clients are interested in protecting themselves from a dirty bomb. This entails a biodefense unit that employs a pressurized and filtered air system that ties into the home's heating and cooling system. It keeps chemicals out and uses a computerized system to "give you real-time info about the air quality outdoors." These systems are typically built in a basement area (Gaffney notes that clients like to outfit their downstairs theater with it) and cost at least $75,000.

But what about a safe room like in the movie? SAFE offers NBCE complexes -- nuclear-, biological-, chemical-, and electromagnetic-proof areas -- outfitted with their own air filtration, food and water storage capacity designed to keep people safe in the event of a long-term attack.

So who's putting in safe rooms?

As you might expect, the majority of Corbi and Gaffney's business comes from wealthy customers. Not only do they have more to protect, you just can't achieve this level of defense on the cheap.

"The materials themselves are very expensive," Gaffney says. The cost to outfit four walls, a ceiling, and a floor with ballistic material, a force-resistant entry door, air filtration system, and a basic access control panel with a key fob runs from $250,000 to $300,000. And if you're talking the whole bunker package, with supplies, communication lines, Wi-Fi access, biodefense, etc., you're looking at about $500,000.

Are these people paranoid or prepared? All we know is that if the apocalypse does happen, the meek 99.99% won't inherit the Earth. But we'd like an invitation to your safe room, please.